Cinderella Six Feet Under
Author:Maia Chance

Ophelia stared after him. Then she looked at Malbert sitting lumpishly in his chair. “It is an outrage!” she said. “It is almost as though—yes, it is as though the police are deliberately averting their eyes from any evidence that does not fit their theory. Rationale? Horsefeathers! That Foucher is a buffoon, or lazy. Or both.”

“Madame Brand, I beg you to calm yourself. Come. Join me for a stroll in the garden. I would be most interested to hear of your charitable work in Boston.”

Ophelia stared at Malbert. Did the recent presence of a corpse in his garden not trouble him in the least? All of a sudden, Ophelia made up her mind: it was time to take matters into her own hands. To Tartarus with the police! She would discover the dead girl’s identity; she would learn where Henrietta had gone.

“No, thank you,” Ophelia said to Malbert. “I’ve just remembered a most pressing engagement.”

She hurried upstairs to her chamber. Prue was snoozing with the cat.

Ophelia cleaned her teeth at the washbasin. Then she dug the Baedeker and her reticule out of her carpetbag, tied on her black taffeta bonnet, and shrugged on her woolen cloak. Downstairs, she found an umbrella and trooped out of the house.





4




When Prue woke up, the ginger cat was purring on top of her, but Ophelia was gone.

Good.

She struggled to a seat. She seesawed her precious letter, Hansel’s letter, out from under the cat and smoothed the puckers. Her eyes roved to the first troubling spot:

I do not wish you to suppose, dear Miss Bright, that when we last parted at Schloss Grunewald we had formed what one might call an understanding. That I hold you in the highest esteem goes, I daresay, without saying. But you are a very young lady, and until I have completed my medical studies and secured a living for myself, I could never presume to consider any lady, however our attachment might be felt or comprehended, as anything but free.

Prue read this line for about the hundred and tenth time. She still wasn’t exactly sure she’d caught Hansel’s meaning. The line was so cluttered up with commas and genteel words, she didn’t know if she had it by the head or by the slick tail. Was he saying they’d have an “understanding” someday, in the future? Or was this his way of telling her to scoot off?

Prue fluttered away tears, and reread the letter’s second troubling spot:

Frau Beringer (She was the landlady of Hansel’s student boardinghouse in Heidelberg, Germany) keeps such a spotless house, it is truly a marvel. I do not believe I have met with such a fine housekeeper before, and I hope someday to be the master of such a gracious and meticulous household.

These lines pained Prue, fresh little heart stabbings each time she read them. Prue wouldn’t be able to make a doll’s house gracious and meticulous, let alone a real house. Ma had never taught her how.

Ma. Still missing. Her dead sister, gone forever. And Hansel acting just as sneaky as any other feller.

One fat tear plopped onto the letter. The ink of the word spotless blurred.

*

Ophelia may as well have been in Timbuktu, for all she knew about Paris. The Baedeker map had a crease straight through Le Marais, the streets ran higgledy-piggledy, and the rain was coming down in buckets. But she found her way to a bustling thoroughfare called Rue de Rivoli. She rechecked the map. Yes. It looked to lead straight to the Louvre. From the Louvre she could walk to Rue le Peletier, where the opera house was.

Because opera houses, Ophelia well knew, were where ballerinas were to be found.

She paid thirty centimes for an inside seat in a horse-drawn double decker. She had changed some of her hard-won German money for French at the train station the other day. Inside, the omnibus was entirely taken up by ladies’ bobbing crinolines, which was probably why all the gentlemen fled to the open-air upper level despite the rain.

Ophelia rubbed at the foggy window with her fist, but she couldn’t see much. Black carriages, black umbrellas, black hats, bare black trees. Tight-packed old buildings with shutters and awnings. Steep roofs, jumbly chimneys, dripping gargoyles.

A queasy half hour passed. When Ophelia saw the looming side of what she guessed was the Louvre, she piled off the omnibus with a bunch of other folks, snapped open her umbrella, and set off on foot.

The opera house, called Salle le Peletier (however you pronounced that one) was built of white stone, with rows of pillars and arches and a shining-wet paved square out front.

Ophelia soon discovered that all of the doors at the front of the opera house were locked. Well, they would be. It wasn’t even ten o’clock yet. Even a matinee performance wouldn’t start for hours.

She paused to look at a big, colorful placard behind glass. The placard said Cendrillon—not that she could read French—decorated with ornate scrolls and spirals, interlaced with rats, mice, and lizards. Pretty.

She set off again. Perhaps the stage door was unlocked. She hustled around the corner.

*

Blubbering over Hansel had worked up a hunger and thirst in Prue. She stuffed the letter down her bodice, tied on her boots, and repaired her hair. Downstairs, the breakfast salon was empty.

Crackers.